Fifteen members of the Wardlow Auctions crew have the delicate yet enormous task of picking apart the thousands upon thousands of memorabilia that clutter the walls of Jim Porter’s Good Time Emporium from ceiling to floor. The first of three online auctions will take place from June 21-29.
Phase 1 will include items from the main ballroom, the Memory Lane hallway and the Memory Lane bar — everything from neon beer signs and disco balls to large chandeliers, old-fashioned beer advertisements, bizarre dolls and the back bar that was rumored to have come from the Seelbach Hotel. Everything must go, and everything will go, auctioneer and principal broker Joe Gribbins says.
Jim Porter’s and its sister club, Phoenix Hill Tavern, were closed June 1 by owner and founder Ben Rogers. MSD purchased Porter’s for $5 million in April, and the site will be used for the construction of a new storage basin along Grinstead Drive. Phoenix Hill is currently under contract with a developer, but no set plans have been announced. In fact, the deal hasn’t even been finalized, so at the moment, Wardlow Auctions is only concentrating on Porter’s.
Gribbins took Insider on a brief tour of the nightclub while the crew wrote descriptions of each item, took photos, and lined them up on makeshift shelves that now occupy the ballroom’s dance floor. They have been working since Monday, and already the shelves are just about at capacity.
The online auction will be an absolute one, Gribbins explains, meaning no items will have set prices and public demand will drive the costs. He says Wardlow typically does real estate auctions, and this one might just be one of their largest to date, other than the Jefferson Club auction they did a few years back. Wardlow was one of the first auction companies in Kentucky to offer an online option, Gribbins says, which makes them suitable for a massive project like this.
The 18,000-square-foot club has many nooks and crannies, secret rooms, storage rooms, multi floors, several bathrooms and a handful of outdoor patios. Some of the rooms, like the Good Time Room and the Melody Bar, which contains the infamous swing that hangs above (that I got to finally sit in!), haven’t even been touched yet. Those will both be included in the Phase 2 auction in July.
Gribbins is a history buff and shares the story of the real-life Jim Porter, a Louisville man who worked as a jockey as a youth, before a growth spurt shot him up to more than 7 feet tall. A plaque and portrait of Porter hang on a fireplace in the main ballroom. Supposedly Porter was well loved in the community and even ran a tavern during his lifetime (1810-1859).
I ask Gribbins if he’s seen anything of special value or anything that surprised him during his work at Jim Porter’s. There are a few old-school Fehr’s Beer signs and a neon Buick sign, which he thinks are pretty valuable. But as a third-generation auctioneer, he says nothing really surprises him anymore.
“I could tell you stories for days, but I’ve been sworn to confidentiality,” he says.
Wardlow Auctions owner Rick Wardlow says he sees the space almost as a museum. At first you are overwhelmed by the thousands of knickknacks strewn about each room, he explains. Then you begin to look at each piece and realize its value; then you view the entire building as an artistic center.
An open house is scheduled for June 28 for those interested in looking at the Phase 1 auction items. A time has not yet been set, but Gribbins suggests you keep an eye on their website for further details. The auction will run June 21-29.